Food Protection Connection: Know, Believe, Do: An Approach to Training
(reprinted from Dietary Manager, April 2007)
Each Food Protection Connection column is approved for 1 CPE hour (level 1) for RDs and DTRs.
When it comes to food safety, what your employees know, what they believe, and what they do are all crucial to the protection of your clients from foodborne illness. A new training resource from the World Health Organization (WHO) provides a resource to help you evaluate all three of these factors.
The Five Keys to Safer Food manual, available as a free PDF download from the WHO website, presents five key messages for safe food handling: keep clean, separate raw and cooked, cook thoroughly, keep food at safe temperatures, and use safe water and raw materials. These five points are not random advice, but correspond with the five top causes of foodborne illness, as identified by the Centers for Disease Control: poor personal hygiene, contaminated equipment, inadequate cooking, improper holding temperatures, and food from unsafe sources…so these messages represent excellent priorities for training.
WHO presents a flexible set of content revolving around these five keys. Because the content is developed for international use, as always, review these points against your own health code/standards and adapt accordingly if you decide to use them as aids in your next sanitation inservice.
Know, Believe, Do
WHO offers a set of one-page quizzes to walk you through a useful process of sorting out what foodservice workers know, believe, and do. These can be adapted for training dietary employees, and it’s a good idea to tackle this critical content from each of the three angles. For example, when starting your next sanitation inservice, try the “behavior” quiz, which asks participants to check off “Always, Most Times, Sometimes, Not Often, or Never” for statements such as these:
- I wash my hands before eating and during food preparation.
- I separate raw and cooked food during storage.
- After I have cooked a meal, I store any leftovers in a cool place within two hours.
You can also invent your own questions on this theme. Try it the day before your inservice training session, and make it anonymous. This addresses the “DO” piece of the puzzle.
Do your employees believe the information they hear? This is the “BELIEVE” piece. Check what staff believe is important, because face it—if employees don’t believe your sanitation procedures have value, the best procedures will fall flat. Disbelief can lead to behavior in which an employee follows procedures when you’re watching, and doesn’t when you’re not. On the WHO quiz, employees can decide whether they “Agree, are Not Sure, or Disagree,” with statements such as these:
- Inspecting food for freshness and wholesomeness is valuable.
- Meat thermometers are useful for ensuring food is cooked safely.
When employees do not agree with the food-safe messages and believe in their value, you know you have some persuading to do. How? Adult learners are most likely to respond to a combination of explanations (“Give me the real reason for the rule”) and experiences (“Help me understand what it will be like if I don’t follow it”).
Making the reasons real is challenging because we are talking about hazards that are generally invisible. For ideas to solve this, see the sidebar, “Making the Message Real,” for some ideas adapted from WHO.
The Personal Connection
Another tie-in that is very persuasive to adult learners is personal experience… or at least empathy with someone else’s personal experience. In today’s world, it’s not difficult to help your work team relate to the consequences of failure in food safety systems. You can ask:
- How do you feel about some of the recent food recalls? How would you react if you or someone you care for ate a food—and then you found out it had been recalled?
- Have you ever experienced foodborne illness, or suspected you did? How did it affect your life during the days you were ill? Did you report your illness? Why or why not?
Another point to explain is that the food-safe practices protect not only customers, but workers too. Foodservice workers are exposed to foodborne hazards every day. Employees who produce and serve safe food are protecting themselves when they eat it in the cafeteria. Employees who follow handwashing procedures are protecting their own health.
The Language of Training
WHO advises a focus on the audience, with attention to the level of language you use. Should you talk about “microorganisms” or “germs”? “Toxins” or “poisons”? There is no single correct answer. These are points to consider with your audience. What about employees whose native language is not English? The body of training materials for multiple languages is constantly growing. See the “More Info” list below for a new Web-based catalog of resources in more than 40 languages.
Bringing it Home
For a dietary manager, keeping the continual food safety message fresh is an ongoing challenge. New resources, new angles, and new perspectives can help deliver conviction and personal perspective to your work team. Now, back it up with a review of your operational culture. What happens when employees follow the rules? What is your positive reinforcement plan? What do employees see management doing? How are you building policies, procedures, audits, and inspections to reinforce your critical training content?
In all, you want to address what employees know, believe, and do in your training. Then examine your operational plan to ensure that training is part of the big picture that provides structure to your direction.
WHO—Five Keys to Safer Food Manual: www.who.int/foodsafety/publications/
Making the Message Real
Here are visual ideas to help illustrate the hazards of microorganisms:
- It takes 1 million microorganisms to cover the head of a pin. Hold up a pin, touch it to a piece of raw chicken, and ask what’s there. If this were a contaminated surface, the answer might be: 1 million germs that could make us ill.
- Now, hold up a teaspoon of soil. How many germs here? The answer is: 1 billion. • Next, draw a square inch on your hand with a felt-tip marker. How many germs here? The answer is 650,000.
- How many germs (bacteria or virus particles) does it take to cause illness? The answer is: Numbers vary by microorganism, but sometimes as few as 10 or 20.
- Do you have a calculator handy? How many illnesses could that square inch of unwashed hand cause?
- To demonstrate how rapidly bacteria multiply under favorable growth conditions, try this idea: Bring out a bowl of dried beans. Now, set out one dried bean on a table. In 15 seconds, make it two. In another 15 seconds, make it four. In another 15 seconds, make it eight. Each 15 seconds, double the count. (Under prime conditions in the danger zone, foodborne bacteria counts will double every 15 minutes, so consider this a high-speed demonstration.)
Source: Expanded and adapted from WHO.
By Sue Grossbauer